Skip to main content

Comparing the Received Pronunciation of J. R. Firth and Daniel Jones: A sociophonetic perspective

  • Joanna Przedlacka (a1) and Michael Ashby (a2)

This study focuses on a corpus assembled from commercial recordings of 1929 and 1932 featuring the two British linguists J. R. Firth (1890–1960) and Daniel Jones (1881–1967). The aim is to analyse and quantify differences in the Received Pronunciation (RP) used by the two men, in relation to sociolinguistic and stylistic variation within RP of the period. A systematic acoustic analysis reveals that whereas the vowel systems of the two speakers are closely similar in most respects, there are significant differences in the realizations of the trap, price and dress qualities. We show that each of these has a well-documented history of variation in RP, and find that in each case Firth is employing the higher-class or more prestigious variant, which is a reversal of expectations based on what is known about the social and regional origins of the two. We consider the possible roles of social background, avoidance of regional features and hypercorrection. The outcomes of our work are (i) an illustration of RP used in the interwar period for the purposes of teaching English as a foreign language, (ii) empirical evidence for internal variation within the accent, (iii) additional insights into the stylistic and social correlates of this variation, and (iv) a demonstration that satisfactory formant analyses can be conducted with recordings from as early as the 1920s. Overall, it is hoped that this case-study will both throw light on the ‘standard’ accent of the era and inspire further sociophonetic investigations with legacy recordings.

Hide All
Abercrombie, David. 1991. Fifty years in phonetics: Selected papers. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Avery, Elizabeth, Dorsey, Jane & Sickels, Vera A.. 1928. First principles of speech training. New York: D. Appleton & Co.
Baumann, Heinrich. 1905. Der kleine Toussaint-Langenscheidt Englisch: Methode Toussaint-Langenscheidt; mit Angabe der Aussprache nach dem phonetischen System der Methode Toussaint-Langenscheidt; zur schnellen Aneigung der Umgangssprache durch Selbstunterricht; Reisesprachführer, Konversationsbuch. Berlin-Schöneberg: G. Langenscheidt.
Bennett, Rodney. 1930. The play way of speech training. London: Evans Brothers.
Butcher, Andrew. 1982. Cardinal vowels and other problems. In Crystal, David (ed.), Linguistic controversies: Essays in linguistic theory and practice in honour of F. R. Palmer, 5072. London: Arnold.
Collins, Beverley Simeon & Mees, Inger M.. 1999. The real Professor Higgins: The life and career of Daniel Jones. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Cruttenden, Alan. 2008. Gimson's Pronunciation of English, 7th edn. London: Hodder Education.
Cruttenden, Alan. 2014. Gimson's Pronunciation of English, 8th edn. London: Routledge.
Deterding, David. 1997. The formants of monophthong vowels in Standard Southern British English pronunciation. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 27, 4755.
Di Paolo, Marianna & Yaeger-Dror, Malcah. 2011. Field methods: Gathering data, creating a corpus, and reporting your work. In Di Paolo, Marianna & Yaeger-Dror, Malcah (eds.), Sociophonetics: A student's guide, 723. London & New York: Routledge.
Ellis, A. J. 1874. On early English pronunciation, vol. 4. London: Asher & Co. for the Philological Society.
Fabricius, Anne H. 2007. Variation and change in the trap and strut vowels of RP: A real time comparison of five acoustic data sets. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37 (3), 293320.
Fabricius, Anne H., Watt, Dominic & Johnson, Daniel Ezra. 2009. A comparison of three speaker-intrinsic vowel formant frequency normalization algorithms for sociophonetics. Language Variation and Change 21, 413435.
Firth, J. R. 1930. Speech. London: Ernest Benn.
Firth, J. R. 1934. Review of Stinchfield Hawk (1933). Philosophy 9 (35), 373.
Firth, J. R. & Singh, M. G.. 1929. Pioneers: Selected prose for language study. London: Macmillan.
Gimson, A. C. 1980. An introduction to the pronunciation of English, 3rd edn. London: Edward Arnold.
Gimson, A. C. 1994. An introduction to the pronunciation of English, 5th edn., edited by Alan Cruttenden. London: Edward Arnold.
Hannisdal, Bente. 2006. Variability and change in Received Pronunciation. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Bergen.
Harrington, Jonathan, Palethorpe, Sallyanne & Watson, Catherine. 2000. Monophthongal vowel changes in Received Pronunciation: An acoustic analysis of the Queen's Christmas broadcasts. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 30 (1–2), 6378.
Harrison, Philip. 2013. Making accurate formant measurements: An empirical investigation of the influence of the measurement tool, analysis settings and speaker on formant measurements. Ph.D. dissertation, University of York.
Hawkins, Sarah & Midgley, Jonathan. 2005. Formant frequencies of RP monophthongs in four age groups of speakers. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 35 (2), 183199.
Huckvale, Mark. 2013. Speech Filing System. (20 March 2015).
Janda, Richard D. & Auger, Julie. 1992. Quantitative evidence, qualitative hypercorrection, sociolinguistic variables – and French speakers’ 'eadaches with English h/Ø. Language and Communication 12 (3–4), 195236.
Jones, Daniel. 1909a. Intonation curves: A collection of phonetic texts, in which intonation is marked throughout by means of curved lines on a musical stave. Leipzig & Berlin: B G Teubner.
Jones, Daniel. 1909b. The pronunciation of English: Phonetics and phonetic transcriptions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jones, Daniel. 1917. An English pronouncing dictionary, using the alphabet of the International Phonetic Association, 1st edn. London: J. M. Dent.
Jones, Daniel. 1918. An outline of English phonetics. Leipzig: B. G. Teubner.
Jones, Daniel. 1926. An English pronouncing dictionary: Showing the pronunciation of over 50,000 words in international phonetic transcription, 3rd edn. London: J. M. Dent.
Jones, Daniel. 1932. An outline of English phonetics, 3rd edn. Cambridge: Heffer.
Jones, Daniel. 1935. Speech training: A symposium. The phonetic aspect. The British Journal of Educational Psychology 5, 1040.
Jones, Daniel. 1937a. An English pronouncing dictionary: Showing the pronunciation of over 50,000 words in international phonetic transcription, 4th edn. London: J. M. Dent.
Jones, Daniel. 1937b. On “Received Pronunciation” (Supplement to Le Maître Phonétique).
Jones, Daniel. 1962. An outline of English phonetics, 9th edn., reprint, with further alterations. Cambridge: Heffer.
Kenrick, William. 1773. A new dictionary of the English language: To which is prefixed a rhetorical grammar. London: Printed for John and Francis Rivington, William Johnston, Thomas Longman, and Thomas Cadell.
Labov, William. 1966. The social stratification of English in New York City. Washington, D.C.: The Center for Applied Linguistics.
Labov, William. 1972a. Language in the inner city: Studies in the Black English vernacular. Philadelphia, PA: The University of Pennsylvania Press.
Labov, William. 1972b. Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia, PA: The University of Pennsylvania Press.
Ladefoged, Peter. 1967. Three areas of experimental phonetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Laguna, Grace Mead Andrus de. 1927. Speech: Its function and development. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Lindsey, Geoff. 2013. The vowel space. english speech services. (18 January 2017).
Love, Nigel. 1988. The linguistic thought of J. R. Firth. In Harris, Roy (ed.), Linguistic thought in England 1914–1945, 148164. London: Duckworth.
MacMahon, Michael K. C. 1998. Phonology . In Romaine, Suzanne (ed.), The Cambridge history of the English language, vol. 4: 1776–1997, 373535. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Markey, John Fordyce. 1928. The symbolic process and its integration in children: A study in social psychology. London: Kegan Paul & Co.
Newbolt, Sir Henry John (ed.). 1921. The teaching of English in England: Being the report of the departmental committee appointed by the president of the Board of Education to inquire into the position of English in the educational system of England. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office.
Orton, Harold. 1933. The phonology of a south Durham dialect: Descriptive, historical, and comparative. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.
Petyt, Keith Malcolm. 1985. ‘Dialect’ and ‘accent’ in industrial West Yorkshire. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Pillsbury, Walter Bowers & Meader, Clarence Linton. 1928. The psychology of language. New York: D. Appleton.
Plug, Leendert. 2008. J. R. Firth: A new biography. Transactions of the Philological Society 106 (3), 337374. doi:10.1111/j.1467-968X.2008.00203.x.
Przedlacka, Joanna. 2012. A historical study of Voice Onset Time in Received Pronunciation. In Esquibel, Joanna & Wojtyś, Anna (eds.), Explorations in the English language: Middle Ages and beyond. Festschrift for Professor Jerzy Wełna on the occasion of his 70th birthday (Studies in English Medieval Language and Literature 35), 6776. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
Rampton, Ben. 1995. Crossing: Language and ethnicity among adolescents. London: Longman.
Rampton, Ben. 1999. Styling the other: Introduction. Journal of Sociolinguistics 3–4, 421427.
Ross, Alan S. C. 1954. Linguistic class-indicators in present-day English. Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 55 (1), 2056.
Smart, Benjamin Humphrey. 1836. Walker remodelled: A new critical pronouncing dictionary of the English language. London: T. Cadell.
Smith, Richard. 2005. An investigation into the roots of ELT, with a particular focus on the career and legacy of Harold E. Palmer (1877–1949). Ph.D thesis, University of Edinburgh. (15 October 2017).
Hawk, Stinchfield, Mae, Sara. 1933. Speech disorders: A psychological study of the various defects of speech. London & New York: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, Harcourt, Brace.
Thomas, Erik R. & Kendall, Tyler. 2015. NORM: Vowel Normalization Suite 1.1. (28 June 2017).
Trudgill, Peter. 1999. Standard English: What it isn't. In Tony Bex & Watts, Richard J. (eds.), Standard English: The widening debate, 117128. London: Routlefge.
Trudgill, Peter. 2003. A glossary of sociolinguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Trudgill, Peter. 2011. Standard English: What it isn't. [Revised version of Trudgill 1999]
UCL [University College London]. 1933. UCL calendar for 1933–34.
Upton, Clive. 2007. Introduction to Alan S. C. Ross (1954) “Linguistic class-indicators in present-day English”. Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 108 (1a), 109111.
Upton, Clive. 2012. An evolving standard British English. In Hickey, Raymond (ed.), Standards of English: Codified varieties around the world (Studies in English Language Series), 5571. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ward, Ida C. 1929. The phonetics of English. Cambridge: Heffer.
Watt, Dominic & Fabricius, Anne H.. 2011. A measure of variable planar locations anchored on the centroid of the vowel space: A sociophonetic research tool. Proceedings of the 17th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS XVII), Hong Kong.
Wells, J. C. 1982. Accents of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wikström, Jussi. 2013. An acoustic study of the RP English lot and thought vowels. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 43, 3747.
Williams, Ann & Kerswill, Paul. 1999. Dialect levelling: Milton Keynes, Reading, Hull. In Foulkes, Paul & Docherty, Gerard J. (eds.), Urban voices: Accent studies in the British Isles, 141162. London: Arnold.
Woodthorpe, R. C. 1932. The public school murder. London: Nicholson & Watson.
Wright, Richard. 2003. Factors of lexical competition in vowel articulation. In Local, John, Ogden, Richard & Temple, Rosalind (eds.), Phonetic interpretation (Papers in Laboratory Phonology VI) , 7587. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wyld, Henry Cecil. 1920. A history of modern colloquial English. Oxford: Blackwell.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of the International Phonetic Association
  • ISSN: 0025-1003
  • EISSN: 1475-3502
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-international-phonetic-association
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 5
Total number of PDF views: 37 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 225 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 21st March 2018 - 21st June 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.